It’s 2018. Why aren’t we talking about the real issues we experience as Somali women: student loans, the wage gap, rising cost of living and lack of affordable childcare? I meet so many Somali women my age (27) who are now divorced with children and without a clue just how difficult life is for Black single mothers in the U.S. We are doing a disservice to Somali women by parading unrealistic expectations and failing to prepare them on how to navigate systemic violence.
I’ve discussed my mom’s experience on my blog before about how she successfully navigated a language barrier, learned how to drive and prepared us to be unyielding in the face of a predatory, racist and treacherous U.S education system. I grew up listening to my mom’s cautionary tales about what coming of age was going to be like. “Provide for yourself, and you will eat twice,” she said during a lesson on how to strain pasta. I was 12. My mom rarely sugarcoated how she felt. Don’t ever trust men. Always have an exit strategy.
I think deep down, my mom feared I would share her fate. She was a prisoner in her own life because she couldn’t financially afford to leave. She was trapped in a ruthless system of wage theft called minimum wage. She arrived right when mass incarceration was garnering steam. My mom knew she couldn’t obtain citizenship with any blemishes on her record, so she refrained from calling the police. Black immigrants in the U.S. must navigate a racially biased criminal justice system, labor market and immigration enforcement simultaneously.
27 is a pivotal age in the U.S because this is when people are entering their first marriages. It’s frustrating to watch my friends struggle since we all come from communities where women outperform men in every area of achievement. My theory is that men from these communities are being coddled by mothers who rarely hold them accountable which promotes a cycle of enabling and codependency later. Because patriarchy blames women for men’s shortcomings, young girls grow up to be self-adjusted without assistance. Men grow up with a lack of accountability.
When I was 8 years old, I was changing diapers and translating legal documents. But all I wanted to do was play outside. I was expected to be an overachieving, pious and selfless Somali daughter. It was hard growing up with that much of a burden. In high school, there were predatory men amongst us who were way over 21. I never felt safe. Our culture enables the abuse and violation of young girls by shaming us into minimizing our existence. To be a Somali girl is to be aware of the relentless amount of rationalization that happens when we are manipulated, exploited and violated.
As a Somali girl who raised herself, I think I did a great job. I have a stress-free life which I believe to be a marker of success. I am not indebted to anyone. Everything I want out of my life is within reach. I am able to travel to the places I once read about in ESL. I live an adventurous, carefree and simple life. And most importantly: I am no one’s mule. Alhamdulilah.